How Sarah Palin Works

Political Career of Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin, mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, in her office in 1996.
Sarah Palin, mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, in her office in 1996.
Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman/AP

Sarah Palin's political career began in earnest in 1992, when she was elected to the W­asilla, Alaska, city council. She served two terms as councilwoman before making a run for the mayor's office by targeting the three-term incumbent as a stale figure who was out of touch with the needs of Wasilla residents. She won the mayoral seat in 1996 at age 32, with 616 of the 1,029 votes cast [source: TPM].

Both critics and supporters in Wasilla remember Palin for bringing "real politics" to the town [source: New York Times]. She ran for mayor on a wider Republican platform of gun rights, a pro-life stance and Christian beliefs in the local, nonpartisan election. In office, she issued what the local press called a "gag order," requiring all city employees to clear interview requests with her office before speaking to the media [source: Time]. She also instituted a policy of asking for help from Washington. Palin traveled to the U.S. capital yearly to lobby for earmarks. She won $29 million in federal funds for the town during her tenure as Wasilla mayor for projects like a commuter rail line [source: Biography].

After becoming mayor, Palin asked for all department heads to submit their resignations: She would choose which to accept [source: Seattle Times]. This included the police chief she'd inherited from the previous mayor, whose loyalty she doubted. After a year, Palin fired the police chief, who sued and later lost after the case was thrown out by a superior court in 2000 [source: Seattle Times]. Palin was criticized in the local media for asking what she later called "rhetorical" questions of the director of Wasilla's library about banning books. The librarian indicated she would not support this kind of censorship and was later fired. After public outcry, Palin withdrew the termination [source: New York Times].

This brand of management took some of Wasilla's residents off guard. In 1997, some residents held a town meeting to discuss recalling her as mayor [source: Anchorage Daily News]. While mayor, Palin cut property taxes and raised the sales tax by one-half cent to pay for a local hockey rink and invested in the public safety department [source: On the Issues]. Ultimately, more voters warmed to Palin: She won the next mayoral election (again facing the former mayor she'd ousted) 826 votes to 255 [source: New York Times].

In 2002, Palin opted not to run for mayor again but instead made an unsuccessful bid for the position of lieutenant governor of Alaska. During her bid for lieutenant governor, Palin used city resources inappropriately, sending out campaign messages from her mayoral e-mail account [source: Bloomberg]. Following her defeat in 2002, she served as chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission from 2003 to 2004. She became known as a whistleblower at that position, turning in a commissioner who later resigned for sending Republican party e-mails from his commission e-mail account [source: Bloomberg].

In December 2006, Palin became the first female governor in Alaska's history. After her election, her husband Todd took a sabbatical from BP over concerns of a conflict of interest. He returned several months later, saying there was no conflict. Gov. Palin's first 20 months in office were largely focused on energy. She is chair of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission and oversaw the passage of legislation allowing the construction of a $40 billion natural gas pipeline [source: Palin]. She issued approval for $1,200 checks for every Alaskan from windfall state oil revenues in addition to the $2,000 annual dividend checks Alaskans already receive [source: Seattle Times]. This extra money came out of the $6 billion the state collected in a windfall profit tax Palin's administration imposed on the oil companies operating in the state.

Palin instituted the windfall tax against opposition from the oil companies, helping to cement her position on economic reform. Curbing excessive government spending is one of several issues key to Palin.